UCL News


Napoleon duped the British over Copenhagen

13 April 2007

A UCL academic has found evidence that Napoleon successfully duped the British by planting false intelligence.

The rumour - that France was mobilising its navy to conqueror Ireland - was a major catalyst for the first terror bombardment on a European capital and its civilians.

Dr Thomas Munch-Petersen, of UCL Scandinavian Studies, uncovered the evidence that deliberately misleading reports played a significant role in the British attack on Copenhagen during extensive archival research. The finding has been published by Sutton Publishing, during the bicentenary year of the bombardment of Copenhagen, in the book 'Defying Napoleon'.

The research shows that false reports from British spies started life as rumour spread by Napoleon Bonaparte himself. One report from a British agent landed on the then foreign secretary's desk and was an important factor leading to the British terror bombardment in Copenhagen in 1807. The attack set out to force the surrender of the Danish navy by instilling terror in the capital's civilians.

Dr Munch-Petersen, author of the book, said: "I first realised that false intelligence was at play in the British attack when sifting through Napoleon's letters. I came across one of his letters that explicitly asked his naval minister to create the impression that he was mobilising the navy to go into Ireland - and to spread the rumour widely. Although the letters have been in the public domain since the nineteenth century, the connection has never been made."

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